Tom Sermanni

What to watch for from U.S. Women’s National Team on Wednesday

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Tom Sermanni era of United States Women’s National Team soccer is still over a month away, even if the transition period begins tomorrow. At tenuous post-Tom, pre-Pia period means the match will be like most since the U.S. won gold: rich on star power but light on relevance.

A continuation of the States’ prolonged post-Olympic celebration tour, Wednesday’s match against the Republic of Ireland comes two-and-a-half years before the team’s next major competition. It also features an opponent that’s ranked 34th in the world (10 spots below Mexico) that never threatened to get out of their group in Euro 2013 qualifying. If last month’s matches against Germany were overlooked, Wednesday’s may barely be noticed.

The level of competition is a reminder of context. This is a celebration tour. The team’s not preparing for anything; rather, they’re taking this opportunity to leverage a successful Olympic campaign, selling a few tickets in the process.

The most important part of this year-ending, five-match stretch (two against Ireland, three against China) will be a veteran auditioning for their new coach. Even though Jillian Ellis will continue running the team, every player knows Tom Sermanni will be watching. How the team performs in this pre-tryout period will be the main reason to follow the next three weeks worth of games.

Here are some areas to watch, though for a team that’s gone 23-1-3 this year, they’re all relative concerns:

source: AP1. When will the Serrmani effect be felt?

The question is actually assumptive, on three levels. It presumes a new coach (a) who has still not officially taken over will (a) have an effect and (b) that effect’s impact is a matter of when, not if. It’s possible the 58-year-old Scot’s main influence will be on continuity – forcing a bridge between a highly successful Sundhage regime and his own. If that happens, we won’t be able to detect Sermanni’s influence.

Although there were small stylistic differences in how Sermanni’s Australia teams played, the approach was largely the same as a U.S. side that’s aspired to a more possession-sensitive approach in the wake of Germany 2011. When he arrives, Sermanni (right), who has already spoken positively about his new team’s technical qualities (hinting they may be underrated), will help this progression, though we’re unlikely to see much difference in the interim.

Still, as a Portland crowd who have been waiting for Caleb Porter know, an absentee coach’s effects can still be felt. If you see this U.S. team show a sudden disinclination toward playing long out of the back, credit Tom Sermanni.

MORE: More detail on the U.S.’s new head coach

source: AP2. Is the defense improving?

National team diehards have long expressed concerns about the team’s defending, with seven goals allowed in six World Cup matches underscoring the team’s problems against top competition. Those problems appeared on the wane when the U.S. gave up only three goals in this year’s first 10 games, but as the Olympic semifinal against Canada showed, the U.S. have to outgun too many teams. Over their last seven games, the U.S. have given up 10 goals.

A lot of that was Pia Sundhage’s willingness to play open games. With a new coach coming in, the defense may need to prove it can lock down opponents.

Christie Rampone (right), the team’s 37-year-old captain, appears to be sticking around to anchor the defense. She’s still among the best players in the world at her position, though the spot to her left – often occupied by Rachel Buehler – needs to be firmed up. That could be done by restoring Buehler’s confidence, though fan favorite Becky Sauerbrunn, who possesses the ball skills to help the U.S.’s stylistic shift, should be considered.

source: Getty Images3. [Obligatory concern about the midfield here]

The States have a lot of depth in attack and on the wings, but in midfield, they’re sorely lacking for choice. Shannon Boxx, Lauren Cheney (right), and Carli Lloyd are Sermanni’s — uh, Ellis’s — current options, with Cheney and Lloyd the likely pairing as the team approaches Canada 2015. Cheney’s positional versatility and Lloyd’s flare for the dramatic make it a capable pair, but against teams like France, Germany, and Japan, the lack of speed, variety, and ball-winning leave the U.S. at a disadvantage.

In Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath, Sermanni has wide players capable of playing attacking midfield positions, but it’s unclear whether that role would conflict with Abby Wambach, who (with the emergence of Alex Morgan) spends more time occupying that space, waiting for play to come to her feet.

The other idea would be to restore Sauerbrunn to the midfield, a role she playing in college. At the base of a triangle with Cheney and Lloyd, Sauerbrunn would allow the two more attacked-minded midfielders to venture forward without exposing the defense. Her skill on the ball can act as a fulcrum when the States have established their attack, while her time as a defender make her the best choice to protect (and possibly solve the problems of) a vulnerable defense.

Conceivably carrying many of the qualities of a player like Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, Sauerbrunn’s a potential response to the midfield strength of the U.S.’s main rivals (Germany, France, Japan). While some have envisioned a similar role for Lauren Cheney, moving Sauerbrunn into midfield would allow one of the States’ goal scoring threats to stay higher up the field.

MORE: Coach Sermanni’s to-do list ahead of Canada 2015

source: Getty Images4. Is Heath really a wide player?

For most of her career at North Carolina, Heath played left midfield for teams that won three national titles, a position that allowed her to take on defenders with her elite one-on-one skills. Three years after playing her last game at Chapel Hill, Heath has started to establish herself in the same position with the national team, though with mixed results.

She still shows the ability to break down a defender one-on-one, but against a higher level of competition, it happens less often. When she does beat her mark, her opposition’s increased athleticism means quicker recovery. Even when Heath’s skills prove a plus, they aren’t enough of an advantage to justify forgoing opportunities to work through Wambach and Morgan, particularly since Heath’s yet to prove a strong crosser of the ball.

Her skill, however, is undeniable, and it’s not difficult to imagine her passing, vision, and quickness being effective in the middle, given the right teammates around her. In the middle, her shot from 18-24 yards can be a real weapon. It all begs a question Serrmani must eventually answer: Is Heath a wide player – somebody who should be taking time away from Heather O’Reilly – or somebody who can help a thin midfield? Her latest audition begins Wednesday.

source: Getty Images5. Is Portland ready for the new big time?

When U.S. Soccer announced the new women’s professional league last week, president Sunil Gulati noted that for the time there would be a direct link between Major League Soccer and one of the top-flight women’s teams. The Paulson family, backers of MLS’s Portland Timbers, had signed on to support a women’s team, one that will likely make Jeld-Wen Field its home.

It’s tempting to see Wednesday night’s game as a test of women’s soccer in Portland, but for a number of reasons, we’re unlikely to see the amped atmosphere that accompanies Timbers games. As of Monday, thanks to little citywide buzz and a $38 entry-level ticket price, only 8,600 tickets had been sold for Wednesday’s match, a number trailing ticket sales for upcoming games in Phoenix, Detroit, and Houston. Add in the late weekday start and the bite of a fall northwest night, and the game won’t threaten Jeld-Wen’s 20,438 capacity.

Perversely, all those circumstances could make Wednesday’s match a good litmus test for women’s professional soccer in Portland. Even though the new team won’t be playing in late fall, there are a number of other obstacles it will have to overcome. Creating buzz will always be a problem (especially in a city that’s fallen for its MLS product), but ticket prices will be much more reasonable.

Given the circumstances that are keeping many away, getting a crowd of over 10,000 for Wednesday’s game against Ireland would be a great sign for the new professional team, especially if two or three of the night’s stars are playing for Portland come March.

VIDEO: Previewing all 10 Premier League games

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Jose Fonte of Southampton and Sergio Aguero of Manchester City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Southampton at the Etihad Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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A busy midweek for Premier League teams in Europe sees some high-profile match-ups when league play resumes this weekend.

Chelsea is hosting former manager Jose Mourinho, Arsenal looks to keep up its red-hot play, and Manchester City is hoping an extra day’s rest on Southampton makes a difference to its recent dry spell.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on  NBC Sports 

Below you will find video previews of all 10 games coming up this weekend in the PL.

Manchester City vs. Southampton — Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Burnley vs. Everton — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Liverpool vs. West Bromwich Albion — Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Swansea City vs. Watford — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Bournemouth vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Hull City vs. Stoke City — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Chelsea vs. Manchester United — Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

West Ham United vs. Sunderland — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, watch online via NBC Sports

PST EXTRA: Will Mourinho go ultra defensive vs Chelsea? (video)

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After Thursday’s thumping of Fenerbahce, Manchester United’s focus turns to Chelsea.

You can bet Jose Mourinho has been daydreaming of this day from the moment he started jockeying for a new Premier League job; leading a team onto the Stamford Bridge pitch to face his former club.

[ MORE: Mourinho says Pogba needs time ]

Two years ago, Mourinho was leading Chelsea to the Premier League title. He didn’t last the next season, as a run of shocking results motivated Chelsea to cut ties with its “Special One”.

Joe Prince-Wright is here with another PST Extra, breaking down Sunday’s big match between Mourinho’s Red Devils and Antonio Conte‘s Blues at 11 a.m. ET.

Manchester United: Pogba explains why he took PK over Rooney

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United runs with the ball during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between Manchester United FC and Fenerbahce SK at Old Trafford on October 20, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba scored a pair of goals in Thursday’s big Europa League win over Fenerbahce, but the first was up for discussion.

Wayne Rooney started the game and has handled plenty of penalty kicks in his day, but the captain bowed to Pogba’s request to break the deadlock.

[ WATCH: Pogba’s fantastic goal ]

Pogba would later score a much better looking goal, but many debated the PK duties for much of the game (ad nauseam). Anthony Martial converted United’s second penalty of the night in a 4-1 win, but it was Pogba’s that was at the center of discussion.

From the BBC:

“I told Wayne (Rooney) I wanted to take the penalty and he let me. I am very happy to score that penalty and from a player like him to let me it is big respect so I am very glad.

“I feel comfortable with all of the team. It is just at the start of the season and there is still a long way to go and we want to go up and do our best and be top of the league.”

Pogba certainly knows the right way to turn a phrase, proffering plenty of praise for Rooney. Pogba had a very good game aside from a few early misplaced passes, and this performance could put his form in a fine place for Sunday’s match against Chelsea.

Mourinho says Pogba needs time to adjust to Premier League intensity

Manchester United's Paul Pogba, centre, celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Europa League Group A soccer match between Manchester United and Fenerbahce at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Paul Pogba had a very good match for Manchester United in the Europa League on Thursday, but manager Jose Mourinho still wants supporters to pump the brakes as the French midfielder continues adjusting to life in the Premier League.

Pogba, 23, has been under the microscope since returning to Old Trafford after a tremendous stint with Juventus. That scrutiny tends to come with a world record transfer fee.

[ MORE: UEFA Europa League roundup ]

On Thursday, he scored a pair of goals in United’s 4-1 defeat of Fenerbahce, a win that boosted the Red Devils back atop their Europa League group.

Mourinho was obviously asked about his midfielder’s starring performance.

“Paul Pogba needs time. I was in Italy, I know Italian football. To be in Italy for four or five years and come back I was not expecting it to be a click of the fingers for intensity. He needs time.”